Far from the frenzied crowds of Provence, there is another “south” in France. The Languedoc-Roussillon is a beautiful and unspoiled region that begins at the delta of the Rhône and runs south along the Mediterranean to the Spanish border; here you will find the enchanting market town of Uzès and the charming Écusson neighborhood of Montpellier. In addition, be sure not to miss the medieval hamlet of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert and the Cathar stronghold of Minerve.
Southeast of Toulouse, the walled city of Carcassonne is an awe-inspiring example of medieval fortification. And the best way to enjoy the popular Pont du Gard, the famous stone aqueduct that was built in the first century to supply the city of Nîmes, is to rise early and be there when the site opens.
Languedoc’s wine and food are Mediterranean, and the area’s vineyards, which long dominated the mass production of French table wine, have lately become more refined. Many vintners feel freer to experiment here than in other more established regions in France. Consider stopping in Tavel, renowned for its robust rosé.
Montpellier Shops & Museums
Montpellier is the capital city of the Languedoc. The buzzing center of this university town is the Place de la Comédie, from where you can walk to boutiques, restaurants, cafés and museums. These include the Musée Fabre (39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle), which houses a rich collection of European art and Coqueline Boutique (6 Rue de la Croix d’Or), a high-end shop set under the stone archways of a beautiful mansion.
Afterward, I like to stop at L’Heure Bleue (1 Rue de la Carbonnerie) for tea and a pâtisserie. If you have time, book one of the hands-on pottery classes at Helen Green Ceramix’s Ateliers d’Argile (3 Rue du Verseau) clay studio. The raku-firing and -glazing sessions are fascinating.
A Preserved Fortified Town
Built and owned by the Knights Templar during the 12th century, the perfectly preserved fortified town of La Couvertoirade, in the heart of the limestone karst plateau Causse du Larzac, is now primarily inhabited by craftsmen. It is an excellent place to find pottery, woven baskets and handmade leather goods.
Not to be missed is the new L’Atelier PZ Coutellerie (Les Mourguettes) for unique pocketknives with handles made of local boxwood or juniper. Buy some locally made cheese, olive oil and charcuterie and enjoy a picnic on the bank of the bordering river.
Castles & Anchovies
At the time of the fauvism movement, the small port of Collioure was made famous by artists, including Matisse and Derain, who were inspired by the vivid colors of the fishing boats and the cerulean waters of the Mediterranean.
After touring the 13th-century Château Royal, have a local Banyuls aperitif at the renowned Restaurant les Templiers (12 Quai de l’Amirauté). And don’t forget to taste Collioure’s famous anchovies. Fished by net and salted by hand, they are considered the best in all the Pyrenees.